The Hidden Drought: Groundwater Politics in California’s Low Desert


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




This project explores the technological, environmental, and cultural politics of California’s “hidden drought” from the perspective of small communities in southern California’s groundwater-dependent, rural Colorado Desert region. Through an ethnography following water scientists, technicians, policy makers, community leaders, and activists as they struggle to understand, model, protect, and sustain their local groundwater (and with it particular imaginaries of their local way of life), this study traces how the idea of hiddenness shapes the imagining and scaling of water problems. Within this context, the hidden drought emerges not as literal invisibility or absence, but in more complex forms as remotely sensed geology, unseen infrastructure, archival laws, secretive political regimes, and excluded stakeholders. By examining how water is made to matter in these places, this project engages with critical questions about the explanatory models, stakes, and scale of water for California’s past, present, and imagined future.